I'm a fan of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee, John Connelly's Charlie Parker, Michael Connolly's Harry Bosch and several other series characters...But if I had to choose one favorite suspense hero, I guess it would have to be James Lee Burke's immortal Dave Robicheaux. From Black Cherry Blues and The Neon Rain all the way through to The Glass Rainbow, the series has held up beautifully. Robicheaux has lost a wife and numerous friends and lovers, been shot and stabbed and beaten and abandoned, gotten drunk and gotten sober. Through it all he's struggled to be dignified and compassionate, generally under the worst of circumstances. Hell, his wounded companion Clete Purcell is like another old friend, almost as real to me as the worn face in my bathroom mirror. As for Dave, he has become an old man now, one who still battles a horrendous temper, the urge to drink, and a wonderfully wrought, self destructive, deeply existential angst. He is an archetype and a contradiction in terms, a character who gives life to the phrase "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for a good man to do nothing."
I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with my favorite characters. As Harry said, there are so many memorable ones. Steve Hamilton’s THE LOCK ARTIST turned the genre upside-down with his young, mute lock-picker, Michael. And I confess to a fondness for Bob Crais’ Joe Pike as well as Ree Dolly in Daniel Woodrell’s WINTER'S BONE. All of them are people of few words (Hmm, maybe there’s a pattern here?) but a strong sense of justice and loyalty.
But I keep coming back to two characters, both of whom I never tire: Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski and Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon. V.I. is the kind of person I want next to me in a fight. If we don’t win, we’ll have given it all we had. She can’t suffer injustice without needing to do something about it, and yet she’s savvy and experienced enough to pick her battles wisely. I trust her implicitly, knowing she’ll always have the right motivation for her actions. Gabriel Allon is more of an enigma. He has baggage, some of which we still don’t know, but that only adds to his allure. His skill set as an assassin is unparalleled, and yet he’d rather be an artist. The combination of brutal cunning and sensitivity is incredibly appealing.
Bill Crider adds: My favorite thriller character is any first-person narrator in an Alistair MacLean novel published before 1970. You might be thinking that’s a lot of different characters since MacLean didn’t write a series, but they way I see it, all his first-person narrators are the same guy, no matter when or where they might be. He (or they) is tougher than industrial leather, resourceful, able to go without sleep for days under conditions that would kill most people, and prone to make terrible blunders that get people killed. That last one might not seem very heroic, but anybody else in a similar situation would get hundreds more killed. If not thousands. He’s often handicapped by some injury or wound, he’s clever, and (this is important for a first-person narrator) he knows how to conceal important information from the reader without cheating too much. I read many of MacLean’s books well over 40 years ago. They thrilled me then, and they thrill me now, thanks to thanks to that wonderful character.
Dave Zeltseman says: "There are so many good choices for best thriller character, but I'm going with Hammett's Continental Op from Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, and 24 short stories. Hammett's nameless PI is tough, smart, resourceful, and also persistent as all hell. He might take a beating or two, but he's going to get his man (or dame) even if he's got to steal crutches from a cripple to do so!"
Lee Goldberg says: I can’t pick a favorite…but I can give you some favorites… Robert B. Parker’s Spenser (the early books, not the last 378 of’em), Richard S. Prather’s Shell Scott, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, Gregory McDonald’s Fletch, and Charles Willeford’s Hoke Moseley. What makes these characters so terrific is that that they all have distinct voices and attitudes, strong and often brilliantly flawed personalities that totally shape the stories that are being told, and how they are told, whether it’s in first person or third person. It’s their voices, as much as their characters, that stick with me. I may forget the mysteries, but I can’t forget these characters.
And now, Max Allan Collins: It may be cheating a little, since I am working with the Spillane estate to complete various novels from the late writer's files, but...Mike Hammer is by far my favorite of the thriller heroes. The toughest of all P.I.s, Hammer was a post-war sensation who established a new threshold of violent response -- and sexual responsiveness -- for fictional protagonists. His vengeance-prone ways inspired every tough private eye and rogue cop who followed, as did his active libido, and it's no wonder that James Bond was first marketed in the USA as the 'British Mike Hammer.' But it's not just Bond, it's everybody from Peter Gunn to Dirty Harry, from Shaft to Jack Bauer.
Ed Gorman also weighs in: I'm going to disappoint a lot of people by saying that my favorite thriller protagonist is Lew Archer. There's dumb tough and there's smart tough and Archer is of the latter variety. And by tough I also mean perceptive and obstinate in pursuit of the truth. He found real tragedy in the everyday and wrote as well about the poor as the rich. I prefer the early novels (before the 1970s) because there's more action and less NYC-crowd pleasing (all the critical praise seemed to soften the books). I don't believe any writer has challenged him as the great psychologist of my era or as a storyteller who came closest to equaling the fine psychological novels of Simenon. If, as his critics insisted, he wrote the same book over and over again, it's a book I never tire of reading."